Guards rejoice as Noel’s 115 mph homer swings in their favor

12:57 AM UTC

KANSAS CITY — You could hear the screams for “Big Christmas” all the way down the hallway outside of the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium.

Led by Austin Hedges, Jhonkensy Noel‘s teammates waited in the clubhouse for him to get back from his postgame interview on the field to celebrate his big, go-ahead blast that helped spark the Guardians to a 7-2 victory over the Royals on Saturday.

When Noel finally got in the room, they yelled, cheered, celebrated him and demanded that he give a speech. Noel laughed and said he couldn’t say what else they did to him.

This wasn’t Noel’s first Major League home run even though it was only his second big league start. The corner infielder/outfielder began his career with a homer in his first at-bat in Baltimore on Wednesday, but because the Guardians ended up losing, they couldn’t celebrate him the same way. So when Noel made his presence known yet again just three days later, everyone went crazy.

“You should’ve seen the dugout when he hit it,” Cleveland starter Tanner Bibee said. “I mean, everyone went nuts.”

Yes, it was a two-run, go-ahead blast at a pivotal point in the game when the Guardians desperately needed some momentum to avoid their first four-game losing streak of the season. But this one had a flare to it that this team had never seen before.

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On a 2-2 count with his team trailing by one in the fourth inning, Noel, ranked as Cleveland’s No. 26 prospect by MLB Pipeline, smacked a slider over the heart of the plate from Royals lefty Cole Ragans 413 feet down the left-field line.

But the most impressive part was that it had a 115.4 mph exit velocity — the hardest-hit homer for Cleveland since Statcast was introduced in 2015.

“We’ve been struggling to get stuff going offensively or we’re down by a few runs,” manager Stephen Vogt said. “So for a game like that, for us to flip it when it was pretty stagnant the first few innings for us, that was a huge, huge momentum swing.”

For a moment, Noel and the Guardians weren’t sure if the home run was going to stand. Noel confidently ran the bases, but off the bat, he wasn’t quite sure if it would stay fair or foul as it zipped down the left-field line.

“It was too hard [hit to see if it was fair or foul],” Noel said. “In my mind, I was like, ‘Stay fair please.’”

But after a crew-chief review, the call stood. From there, the floodgates opened for Cleveland.

“I mean it went out too fast for me to see,” Vogt said. “The call stood and that was a huge moment for us.”

Noel is known for his power. He hit 32 homers in the Minors in 2022 and 27 in Triple-A in ‘23. This year, he had 18 in his first 65 Triple-A games. The only problem has been his chase rate. In ‘23, Noel had 145 strikeouts in 138 games. He knew he had to fix that to make it to the Majors.

“This offseason the focus was to work more on my contact because I knew the power was there,” Noel said through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I feel like the biggest adjustment for me is to make sure to execute a good pitch and have a good plan. And thankfully that’s what I’ve been able to do.”

As soon as Noel was called up to the big leagues, Vogt dubbed him, “Big Christmas,” which can have a plethora of meanings. One is the literal meaning: He’s a big man with a last name that means “Christmas.”

But so far, in just two games started with the big league club and nine at-bats overall, Noel has been able to provide his team a handful of moments that felt like Christmas morning.

Everyone has bought into the nickname, even Noel who had a big smile when he was asked what he thought of it. It’s something new for this red-hot, young team to rally around yet again. And if Noel can control the strike zone at this level, this team will be celebrating a Big Christmas all summer long.

“It’s impressive what he’s doing,” Vogt said. “To me it’s the quality of at-bat. He’s had some chase. Everybody chases. He’s squaring up spin. He’s squaring up fastballs. He’s doing a really nice job. It’s been fun to watch.”